Food Safety News
Chicago-based Aspen Foods Division of Koch Meats is recalling 28,980 pounds of chicken products shipped to Minnesota that may be contaminated with Salmonella Enteritidis. The U.S. Department of Agriculture requested Aspen Foods conduct this recall after the product was found to have caused an outbreak in Minnesota that has sickened at least six people.
The recalled product includes partially prepared chicken products sold by retailers under the Antioch Farms brand name, with sell-by dates of October 1, 2015 and October 7, 2015. The products subject to recall bear the establishment number “P-1358” inside the USDA mark of inspection.
The products are raw, frozen, breaded and pre-browned, stuffed chicken entrees.
The chicken products were produced on July 2, 2014 and July 8, 2014. These products were shipped to retail stores and distribution centers in Minnesota.
The product is identified as:
- Single 5-ounce plastic packets of Raw Stuffed Chicken Breast Breaded, Boneless Breast of Chicken with Rib Meat “A La Kiev”
The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service was notified of an investigation of Salmonella Enteritidis illnesses on October 9, 2014.
Working in conjunction with Minnesota Department of Health, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, FSIS determined that there is a link between the Chicken Kiev from Aspen Foods Division of Koch Foods and this illness cluster.
The illness onset dates in the outbreak range from August, 17, 2014 to September, 27, 2014. At least one patient has been hospitalized.
All six patients reported eating the chicken Kiev product prior to developing symptoms. Samples of product collected during the course of this investigation by Minnesota Department of Agriculture tested positive for Salmonella Enteritidis with the outbreak strain.
On October 17, 2014 FSIS received evidence that linked the illnesses associated with this outbreak to a specific product or production lot. Evidence that is required for a recall includes obtaining case-patient product that tests positive for the same particular strain of Salmonella that caused the illness, and packaging on product that clearly links the product to a specific facility and a specific production date, which were all met.
FSIS is continuing to work with our public health partners on this investigation and will provide updated information as it becomes available.
Rome Packing Co. of East Providence, RI, has issued a voluntary recall of Ocean’s Catch brand All Natural Jonah Crab Leg Meat after routine product sampling by the company determined some of the finished products may have been contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes bacteria.
The list of fresh recalled products are packaged in round plastic containers (tub with snap-on lid), sold as refrigerated, includes:
- 5 ounce Ocean’s Catch All Natural Fresh Jonah Crab Leg Meat: lot number 0104804 with a sell by date before 10/15/14;
- 6 ounce Ocean’s Catch All Natural Jonah Crab Combo Meat: lot number 0104791 with a sell by date before 10/13/14; lot number 0104666 with a sell by date before 10/15/14;
- 8 ounce Ocean’s Catch All Natural Fresh Jonah Crab Leg Meat: lot number 0104665 with a sell by date before 10/13/14; lot number 0104665 with a sell by date before 10/14/14; lot number 0104804 with a sell by date before 10/14/14; lot number 0104842 with a sell by date before 10/16/14;
- 8 ounce Ocean’s Catch All Natural Jonah Crab Combo Meat: lot number 0104787 with a sell by date before 10/14/14;
- 16 ounce Ocean’s Catch All Natural Fresh Jonah Crab Leg Meat: lot number 0104659 with a sell by date before 10/13/14; lot number 0104665 with a sell by date before 10/14/14; lot number 0104842 with a sell by date before 10/16/14;
- 16 ounce Ocean’s Catch All Natural Jonah Crab Combo Meat: lot number 0104806 with a sell by date before 10/14/14; lot number 0104845 with a sell by date before 10/16/14;
The list of frozen recalled products are packaged in plastic bags, sold frozen, includes:
- 5 pound bags of Ocean’s Catch All Natural Frozen Jonah Crab Leg Meat: lot number 0104842 with a sell by date before 4/16/16;
The products are distributed in Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, Illinois and California to retail stores including but not limited to: Shaw’s Supermarkets, Legal Sea Foods, and Harbor Fish Market. Consumers who have purchased these products are urged not to consume them and return them to the place of purchase for a refund or discard them.
Listeria monocytogenes, is an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.
Any consumers who believe they may have become ill after eating the products should contact their health care provider.
Officials with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services say that unpasteurized (raw) milk served at a potluck team meal is the likely cause of a Campylobacter outbreak that sickened close to a couple dozen Durand High School football players and coaches this past month.
At least 22 members of the football team were sickened after attending a team dinner on Thursday, Sept. 18. State and county health officials investigating the outbreak had compiled a list of all food and drink they had consumed, and raw milk was apparently on the list.
Subsequent lab tests revealed that the bacteria causing the illnesses was Campylobacter jejuni, which is often found in the digestive systems of poultry and cattle and in animal feces.
State health officials interviewed all members of the football team and the coaching staff to determine what activities, foods and beverages, or anything else they may have commonly been exposed to before being sickened. Those interviews revealed that raw milk consumption was the only food item associated with the illnesses.
Officials with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection collected manure samples from the farm where the raw milk was produced, and the test results showed that the bacteria causing the illnesses among those who drank the raw milk was the same strain found on the farm.
Campylobacter is a bacteria which causes gastrointestinal symptom including diarrhea (possibly bloody), cramping and fever within two to five days of exposure. Symptoms typically last about a week, although some of those infected do not exhibit symptoms.
Confirmed Campylobacter cases are usually associated with eating raw or undercooked poultry or meat or from cross-contamination of other foods by these items. Other exposures can come from unpasteurized dairy products and contaminated water, produce or animals. Exposure is also possible from person-to-person, although that is less common.
The number of food processing plants in the U.S. with a food defense plan rose from 83 percent to 84 percent between 2013 and 2014, according to the latest Food Defense Plan Survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).
A food defense plan is a system that works to protect food products from intentional adulteration or tampering. While food companies are not required by law to have a food defense plan, FSIS encourages companies to develop one.
This year marked the ninth-annual food defense plan survey for meat and poultry plants, as well as egg product plants and import inspection establishments. FSIS checks to see if plants have measures in place to address security inside and outside the building, protect personnel, and respond to incidents.
FSIS has made a goal to have food defense plans at 90 percent of U.S. processing plants by next year. So far, it seems to be the smallest category of plants which are lagging behind with implementing defense plans.
This year, 98 percent of “large establishments” had defense plans, while plans were found at 91 percent of “small establishments” and 77 percent of “very small establishments.” FSIS did not specify how large a plant needed to be to qualify as large or small.
FSIS said it will have to boost outreach related to food defense for the smallest establishments if it hopes to reach the goal of 90 percent by next year.
These surveys have taken place every year since 2006, when 34 percent of plants had defense plans. Five years later, in 2010, that number had risen to 74 percent.
Below are charts showing the increase in food defense plans since 2006:
Physicians are concerned about the agricultural practice of giving antibiotics to healthy animals for growth promotion and disease prevention, according to a poll conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center poll.
Eighty-five percent of the doctors said they had treated a patient with a suspected or confirmed case of an antibiotic-resistant infection within the past year.
“This poll underscores how important it is to preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics,” said Jean Halloran, director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. “We’re calling on supermarket chains — which have huge leverage with meat producers — to help end the overuse of antibiotics in livestock.”
On Thursday, Consumers Union also delivered a letter signed by 2,000 medical professionals to Trader Joe’s headquarters in California asking that the grocery chain only sell meat from animals raised without sub-therapeutic antibiotics.
A new study by researchers at the University of Missouri in Columbia reveals that people who used hand sanitizers, handled cash-register receipts and then ate French fries were quickly exposed to high levels of bisphenol A (BPA).
BPA, commonly used to coat cash-register receipt paper, is an endocrine disruptor that has been linked to a long list of health problems, including various cancers, and has been banned in Canada and the European Union for use in baby bottles.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned of the risks BPA exposure poses to fetuses, infants and young children, and has required that the chemical be removed from baby bottles and sippy cups (although it can still be used in other products that have contact with food items).
Published on Wednesday, the Missouri study is the first to suggest that touching receipts coated with BPA after using hand sanitizer and then eating greasy foods such as French fries can actually result in higher levels of the chemical being absorbed into the body. Previous research into BPA looked at direct exposure via food and after passage through the intestinal system.
“The chemicals used to make hand sanitizers, soaps, lotions, and sunscreen degrade the skin’s ability to act as a barrier and so act as skin penetration enhancers,” said Frederick vom Saal, Ph.D., a biological sciences professor at the university.
The study measured how much of the chemical was absorbed by people who only touched a BPA-coated receipt for about two seconds. After exposure through the skin and mouth (via the greasy food), the chemical was found in their blood and urine within 90 minutes, the researchers stated.
Some industry groups have criticized recent studies reporting health risks from BPA exposure. For example, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) took issue with a study published Feb. 25, 2014, in the Journal of the American Medical Association entitled, “Handling of Thermal Receipts as a Source of Exposure to Bisphenol A.”
The ACC’s criticism focused on the study being too limited and noted that the levels of BPA it found were “well below safe intake levels established by government regulators around the world.”
Consumers have grown accustomed to the routine of food safety recalls: A food company announces a recall after releasing a product into the market that later turns out to be contaminated with a harmful pathogen, or is otherwise faulty. The company advises customers to check the identifying numbers on the product to see if theirs is part of the recall, and, if it is, return or toss it.
However, by the time that happens, much of the affected product may already have been consumed. And, if the product causes an outbreak, it typically infects the majority of its victims before the company can issue a recall.
Given that recalls are often not issued until after the damage has been done, the question has regularly been raised in the food industry as to whether or not recalls are an effective tool in food safety. The question was the topic of a debate at this year’s International Association of Food Protection (IAFP) conference in Indianapolis.
That debate featured arguments from Barbara Kowalcyk, Ph.D., CEO of the Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention, and Robert Brackett, Ph.D., head of the Institute for Food Safety and Health at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
“I think recalls are absolutely an important part of a food safety plan, but they’re like the airbags in a car,” Brackett told Food Safety News. “They’re a safety device you hope you never have to use.”
Companies with weak food safety plans think it’s OK to rely on their recall plan in the event of a contamination, but it should really be a company’s very last line of defense if every other food safety measure fails, Brackett said.
The problem with recalls is that a company usually does not even know it needs to issue a recall until a number of illness cases have been detected by healthcare providers and then linked back to a specific food product by public health professionals. At best, it takes a week — but usually longer — between the time that cases are detected and a recall is initiated, Brackett said in the debate at IAFP.
Unless technology improves the speed at which outbreaks are traced to a food source, “You’re always going to have this baseline majority of cases before the recall is initiated,” he said.
Recalls are also very rarely 100-percent effective at removing a recalled product from the marketplace, Brackett said. There’s always a chance that not all grocery stores will remove the recalled product, and not all consumers who purchased the product will be aware of the recall or take the time to verify whether it’s affected.
While Kowalcyk agreed that food safety systems should focus on prevention, systems aren’t perfect and so an effective food safety system includes an effective recall element.
According to a 2012 joint report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO), food recalls minimize the impacts of food safety system failures on public health and the economy while maintaining a greater degree of public confidence in the food supply.
Kowalcyk also pointed out that the number of illnesses in outbreaks typically show a decline after recalls are initiated. She brought up a recent example of a company that was not required to issue a recall for their contaminated products.
“What is the alternative to recalls? I had actually debated just getting up here and saying two words and then sitting down,” she said. “Foster Farms.”
Beginning in March 2013, Foster Farms had an outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg linked to its raw chicken. Because no laws prohibit Salmonella on raw chicken, the company was never pressured to issue a recall, and its products sickened a steady stream of a consumers for months.
Nearly a year-and-a-half later, Foster Farms issued a voluntary, limited recall, but more than 340 people were sickened in the time between when the cause of the illness was identified and when the company issued the recall.
“From a public health viewpoint, we could have potentially avoided all of those illnesses,” Kowalcyk said.
And while initiating a recall costs a company an average of $10 million, the amount saved in reputation, consumer trust, and the avoidance of additional illnesses is priceless, she said.
Brackett and Kowalcyk agreed that the status quo for recalls in the American food system has plenty of room for improvement.
Finally, Brackett said, companies that issue recalls have to admit the failure of all their other food safety systems. Effective food safety tools should prevent contamination as opposed to having to react to it, he said.
Kowalcyk agreed, but said that an effective food recall could be seen as a preventive way to avoid even more illnesses caused by leaving contaminated products out in the market for longer periods.
Minnesota health and agriculture officials announced Thursday that six recent cases of Salmonellosis in the state have been linked to raw, frozen, breaded and pre-browned, stuffed chicken entrees.
The implicated product is Antioch Farms brand A La Kiev raw stuffed chicken breast with a U.S. Department of Agriculture stamped code of P-1358. This product is sold at many different grocery store chains.
Investigators from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) determined that six cases of Salmonella infection from August and September 2014 were due to the same strain of Salmonella Enteritidis. One person was hospitalized for their illness.
“Our DNA fingerprinting found that the individuals were sickened by the same strain of Salmonella,” said Dr. Carlota Medus, epidemiologist for the Foodborne Diseases Unit at MDH. “The Minnesota Department of Agriculture collected samples of the same type of product from grocery stores and the outbreak strain of Salmonella was found in packages of this product.”
There have been six outbreaks of Salmonellosis in Minnesota linked to these types of products from 1998 through 2008. This is the first outbreak since improvements were made in 2008 to the labeling of these products. The current labels clearly state that the product is raw.
Salmonella is sometimes present in raw chicken, which is why it is important for consumers to follow safe food-handling practices. This includes cooking all raw poultry products to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees F.
“The problem arises when consumers don’t realize that they are handling and preparing a raw product,” according to Dr. Carrie Rigdon, an investigator for the MDA Dairy and Food Inspection Division.
Other important food-handling practices include hand-washing before and after handling raw meat, keeping raw and cooked foods separate to avoid cross-contamination, and placing cooked meat on a clean plate or platter before serving. Consumers can find more information about safe food-handling practices on the MDH website.
Symptoms of salmonellosis include diarrhea, abdominal pain and cramps and fever. Symptoms usually begin within 12 to 72 hours after exposure, but can begin up to a week after exposure. Salmonella infections usually resolve in 5 to 7 days, but approximately 20 percent of cases require hospitalization. In rare cases, Salmonella infection can lead to death, particularly in the elderly or those with weakened immune systems.
The Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) challenging the approval of Dow Chemical’s Enlist Duo herbicide, a blend of 2,4-D and glyphosate.
The suit was filed in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of Beyond Pesticides, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Environmental Working Group, the National Family Farm Coalition, and Pesticide Action Network North America.
The groups are challenging the approval under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), arguing that EPA did not adequately analyze the impacts of 2,4-D on human health. They also argue that the approval violated the Endangered Species Act.
EPA has proposed to restrict the use of Enlist Duo to Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, but the agency is currently accepting comments on whether to register it for use in an additional 10 states.
The product is intended for use on Dow’s Enlist genetically engineered corn and soybeans, which were approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture last month.
A number of farm, food, health, public interest, consumer, fisheries, and environmental organizations submitted comments in opposition to both proposals, arguing that the use of Enlist Duo on millions of acres of farm fields could negatively impact both environmental and human health. Members of Congress and prominent doctors, scientists, and researchers also urged the agencies not to approve the system.
The Natural Resources Defense Council filed a petition in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit immediately after EPA approved Enlist Duo’s registration on Oct. 15, asking that the court block Enlist Duo’s unconditional registration.
A recent study of contamination on kitchen towels by researchers at the University of Arizona found that 89 percent contained detectable levels of coliform bacteria and 25.6 percent had detectable levels of E. coli.
In their article published in the September/October issue of Food Protection Trends, the researchers conclude that, “The common occurrence of enteric bacteria in kitchen sponges and dishcloths suggests that they can play a role in the cross-contamination of foods, fomites and hands by foodborne pathogens.”
The study was conducted this year on 82 used kitchen towels collected from random households in five major cities: Chicago, IL; Tucson, AZ; New Orleans, LA; Orlando, FL, and Toronto, Canada. The cities were chosen for their differing weather, ranging from cold to hot and dry to humid.
Besides coliform bacteria and E. coli, the towels were also found to contain Enterobacter cloacae, Klebsiella pneumonia and K. oxytoca.
“If you are using a dirty kitchen rag, you may actually be introducing hundreds of thousands of bacteria,” said Kelly Reynolds, a researcher with the University of Arizona’s Zuckerman College of Public Health in Tucson.
What can a person do to reduce the contamination on their kitchen towels? Frequently wash and replace them and/or decontaminate them by soaking in a bleach solution for two minutes to reduce the bacterial load. But even that won’t do the trick if you don’t thoroughly dry them.
“Detergent washing and drying of kitchen cloths in the kitchen only slightly reduced microbial contamination, and regrowth occurred within 24 hours, since the towels remained damp,” the researchers wrote.
Ideally, kitchen towels should be laundered after each use, they advise. If that’s not possible, dip them in a diluted bleach solution (two teaspoons per gallon of water) between uses and let them dry. Then, wash them in a washing machine at least once per week, preferably on the sanitizing or antibacterial cycle.
(This article by Michelle Jarvie of Michigan State University Extension was originally posted here on Oct. 21, 2014, and is reposted with permission. Part 1 of her three-part series is here, and Part 2 is here.)
Why do we hear more about food safety issues today than in the past? Are these issues something we really need to worry about or just a bunch of media hype? What incredibly difficult questions to answer. Let me start by saying there is no “final answer,” only mere suggestions, theories and probable correlations. Here are some of the probable answers:
One of the main reasons we are more aware of food safety issues and foodborne illness is the fact that science has advanced. As little as 50 years ago, we didn’t have the technology necessary to detect some microbes that had existed for centuries. Many illness-causing microbes, such as Campylobacter jejuni, weren’t linked to human illness or identified as a foodborne pathogen until the 1970s or later.
Better microscopes, more thorough testing procedures, and more testing in general has made us a society that is more aware of the microbiology around us. Only recently have we acquired the capability to gather samples from sick people around the globe, test potential contaminated foods, match those two samples to find the culprit of the illness, and then track the food back to where it came from — all of this in less than 24 hours. Fifty years ago, it may have taken weeks to link multiple illnesses in the same state, if it happened at all, and the incidents most likely never made the news unless numerous people died from the outbreak. (Note: Reading this may sound like an easy process, which it is not, but it is possible in some cases. Such advances in science have led to food recalls which hit the media and spark local, national and even global awareness.)
Another reason there is generally more awareness surrounding food safety is that microbes are constantly changing, and many “old” microbes are resurfacing in new and surprising places.
Vibrio cholerae, better known as cholera, hadn’t been found in the Americas for more than 100 years, but it was suddenly showing up again in the early 1990s. Traditionally thought of as a disease of countries with poor sanitation, cases were showing up in the U.S. and were eventually linked to contaminated imported foods. Now, global food chains and the demand for fresh fruit and vegetables year-round (like strawberries in December) are potentially bringing pathogens to a grocery store near you. Older microbes are also mutating into more virulent strains, some of them antibiotic-resistant. One such example is Salmonella, which we have experienced the perils of for centuries (typhoid fever), but newer, resistant strains, such as Salmonella typhimurium DT104, are surfacing regularly. Some speculate that overuse of antibiotics in food animals, as well as humans, may be contributing to these new resistant forms of old bacteria, but the jury is still out. These disease agents, along with several others, were presented in a 2013 Food Safety Progress Report.
Cultural shifts in the way we interact with the environment around us, as well as changing the ways in which we raise our food, may also contribute to raised incidence and awareness of foodborne illness. A good example of this is E. coli. We have been living with E. coli since the beginning of time. Some strains are already present inside our bodies and don’t cause us harm, but other strains, such as O157:H7, can be deadly. This strain is most often found in the fecal matter of cows and has been linked to several illness outbreaks from hamburgers. Most of the ground meat in the U.S. comes from concentrated animal farms, where cattle are kept in large numbers in close quarters where the bacteria can be spread easily between cattle, and through manure on the bodies of cattle going to slaughter. Once in the slaughterhouse, the bacteria from one infected cow could potentially contaminate thousands of pounds of ground meat as it is all mixed together in large batches.
Although strains very similar to E. coli O157:H7 have been around for 50,000 years, strains were only identified as a pathogen in humans in 1982. Why did it all of a sudden make a dramatic appearance? One suggestion is that, as a society, we used to live in close proximity to cattle and thus were a part of the environment that contained such microbes and our immune systems were accustomed to them. Whereas now, we are mostly very separate from the farm animals we eat and have not evolved with a shared set of microbes. Another suggestion involves changes in farming practices. Cattle are traditionally herbivores, grass-eaters to be exact, but the fattening of cows for slaughter is more easily and cheaply done with grain and other food additives. Some science suggests that this change in diet could have led to E. coli adapting to stomach acid levels that would allow it to thrive in human guts.
Furthermore, instead of a very clear path of meat from the farm to your fork, a complicated corporate, maze-like chain of supply gets the meat from the farm to your fork, so that now, in a one-pound package of burger, we could possibly be ingesting meat from more than 100 different cows, from multiple locations, possibly even other countries. With ever-increasing demand for inexpensive meat, there come more cattle, and more manure, and less space to put all of it. For those reasons, it is no wonder that E. coli O157:H7 is also showing up in unconventional places such as deer and seagulls, who may have been exposed to raw manure or water contaminated with manure.
There have also been major shifts in our own eating culture. Americans today are always on the go and too busy to cook at home, let alone grow their own food. We are a culture of convenience. Most Americans have no idea where their food comes from, and most first-graders can’t tell a tomato from a potato. We have completely disconnected from our food. Instead, we rely on pre-packaged, pre-sliced, pre-cooked “food,” or, we go out to eat. Studies show that Americans now eat out four times per week on average. By doing so, we are putting the job of preparing our food in the hands of some of the lowest-paid people in the country who almost never get paid sick days. A 2007 study found that many food-handlers are generally aware of germs, but they don’t truly understand their role in prevention. Other studies conclude that about 50 percent or more of food workers go to work when sick because they can’t afford to take a day off. Currently, about 20 percent of foodborne illness outbreaks can be traced to a sick food worker. The concept of “cooked” has also changed in the past 50 years. In the past, a pink or rare burger at a restaurant (or at home) was unheard of, but today most places cook burgers to “medium” unless otherwise stated. Unfortunately, most people don’t realize that consuming a burger cooked to anything less than 160 degrees F puts you at risk of ingesting dangerous microbes.
As you can see, the subject is vast, and it’s really difficult to pinpoint one single reason for increasing outbreaks and awareness. I’ve only touched on a few here, yet there are others that blame media hype, overuse of antibiotics in the medical industry, and a society that is fearful and thus elbow-deep in antibiotic hand gels that may hurt more than help. No matter what the reasons, microbes are here to stay. Michigan State University Extension recommends the best way to protect yourself from foodborne illness is to wash your hands thoroughly before handling food and thoroughly cook meats to the recommended internal temperatures for the type of meat being cooked.
It is important to know what foods can make you ill, your chances of getting foodborne illnesses, and, most important, ways to prevent them.
Were it not for the Oregon and Colorado ballot initiatives requiring labeling of some foods made with some genetic engineering, state ballots this year would be pretty much devoid of food, food safety and agricultural measures.
The only exception, besides those two, is found in Hawaii, where a double majority is sought for Hawaii Bonds for Agricultural Enterprises, known as Amendment 2.
It would allow the legislature to issue special purpose revenue bonds for loans and financial assistance to any agricultural enterprise. Currently, the Hawaii Legislature is limited to helping only those enterprises on, or serving, important agricultural lands. The double majority means that Amendment 2 must obtain a majority of all votes cast on this particular proposal and a majority of all those voting in the election.
The dearth of food, food safety and agriculture measures on the 2014 ballot is consistent with an overall decline in ballot questions this year, according to Ballotpedia, the online encyclopedia about American politics and elections.
Voters this year are deciding 158 statewide ballot measures in 42 states, and 12 of those were decided on election ballots earlier in the year, leaving just 146 for the Nov. 4 general election.
“2014 has an unusually low number of statewide ballot measures,” Ballotpedia reports. “The last time the number of statewide ballot measures was below 160 was 1988,” the Wisconsin-based tracking service noted.
Two of the 12 statewide ballot measures that were already decided did involve food and agricultural issues. More than 67 percent of Alabama voters approved Amendment 1 this past July 15. It ended an assessment refund to cotton producers while authorizing a commission of cotton producers to direct the assessments. Funds can now be used to promote peanuts, milk and cotton.
The other already-decided state ballot measure involving food and agriculture was in Missouri. On Aug. 5, that state passed a “Right to Farm” measure by the narrowest of margins, 50.12 to 49.88 percent. However narrowly, Missouri’s Amendment 1 did establish a “Right to Farm,” but it will likely be subject to interpretation by state courts.
That leaves the familiar replay of ballot measures seeking to require labeling in increasingly common situations where genetic engineering is involved in food production. This time, those campaigns are in Oregon and Colorado and follow the 2012 defeat in California, the 2013 rejection in Washington state, and the 2014 failure to qualify in Arizona.
Based on a mid-October poll showing that support for Oregon’s Measure 92 has fallen below the 50-percent mark, pollsters say the state’s voters are now “in flux” about the outcome.
Oregonians are getting a contested Measure 92 campaign, with the “No” side outraising the “Yes” side by $11.2 million to $6.2 million. That’s enough for both to put on a competitive campaign in the state’s relatively small media market.
The “No” on Initiative 105 campaign in Colorado has raised $11.2 million and still had $4 million in the bank as of mid-October, according to the Colorado Secretary of State’s office. It has both “ground” and “air” campaigns involving direct mail, voter turnout, net and broadcast campaign messages. Those efforts have been non-stop since early September.
The Colorado Right to Know GMO committee has raised less than $442,000 and had only a few thousand in cash on hand as of mid-October. That’s not enough for a statewide campaign, and it’s apparently been written off by those who target political contributions for the organic industry.
The Suffolk University poll of top Colorado races reported by USA Today yesterday also contained a question Proposition 105 , related to labeling genetically modified food. It shows the measure is failing 29.8 percent “yes” to 49.2 percent “no” with 21 percent undecided.
They picked up 19 more cases and added a state to the multistate outbreak of Salmonella linked to live poultry from backyard flocks, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is essentially calling it over.
The outbreak traced to the source of the chicks — Ohio’s Mt. Healthy Hatcheries — appears to have ended, according to CDC. But it did not end before causing 363 illnesses in 43 states and Puerto Rico. The outbreak strains involved were Salmonella Infantis, Salmonella Newport and Salmonella Hadar.
About one-third of those sickened required hospitalization, but nobody died. The infections came from contact with chicks, ducklings, and other poultry from the Ohio hatchery. CDC reports that 73 percent of those who became ill were in contact with live poultry in the immediate week beforehand.
This is the third year in a row that Mt. Healthy Hatcheries has been associated with a Salmonella outbreak.
CDC’s National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) laboratory conducted antibiotic resistance testing on Salmonella isolates collected from 11 ill persons infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Infantis or Salmonella Newport. Of the 11 isolates tested:
- Two (18 percent) were resistant to tetracycline.
- Nine (82 percent) were susceptible to all antibiotics on the NARMS panel.
The total number of ill persons identified in each state was as follows: Alabama (9), Arizona (3), Arkansas (3), California (5), Colorado (5), Connecticut (2), Florida (1), Georgia (17), Idaho (5), Illinois (6), Iowa (5), Indiana (4), Kansas (2), Kentucky (15), Louisiana (1), Maine (9), Maryland (3), Massachusetts (2), Michigan (2), Minnesota (3), Mississippi (2), Missouri (2), Montana (3), Nebraska (5), New Hampshire (3), New Jersey (3), New Mexico (2), New York (36), North Carolina (34), Ohio (31), Oregon (2), Pennsylvania (33), Puerto Rico (1), South Carolina (9), South Dakota (6), Tennessee (20), Texas (4), Utah (2), Vermont (7), Virginia (25), Washington (10), West Virginia (18), Wisconsin (2), and Wyoming (1).
SunBurst Foods of Goldsboro, NC, which recently recalled virtually all of its pre-packaged sandwiches, hamburgers, chili dogs, salads and other food products because of potential Listeria contamination, has reportedly closed its doors. No illnesses are known to have been reported in connection with the recall.
The recall was announced Oct. 12 and included the food service company’s SunBurst, Fresh Bites and private labeled products sold in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia.
Some of the private label brands are River Edge Farms, CFW, Southern Zest, CJ’s Vending, Binford Street Deli, Middle Georgia Vendors, Roanoke Foods, Select Foods, and Jesse Jones (Double Chili Dogs). A complete list of all recalled products and brands can be found here.
Health officials indicated they were worried about the recalled products being available in grocery and convenience store freezers.
“Our biggest concern with Listeria is with ready-to-eat foods. It can actually grow in a cold environment,” said Keith Jernigan, environmental health supervisor with the Craven County Health Department in New Bern, NC.
Local media representatives had inquired about why SunBurst decided to close down operations rather than take some other action. Melanie Skinner, human resources manager for the company, was quoted as saying, “We determined that it was just in the best interest to shut down.”
The closure affects an estimated 84 employees who work at the firm’s Goldsboro headquarters and at distribution centers in Vanceboro and Salisbury, NC.
Bailey Farms of Oxford, NC, is voluntarily recalling 6,215 pounds of Fresh Serrano Chile Peppers because they could be contaminated with Salmonella.
The peppers were distributed to Meijer Inc., and customers may have purchased this product from Oct. 14-19 at Meijer stores in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio.
The product was also distributed to Publix Super Markets Inc., Merchants Distributors Inc., Walmart, Food Lion, Flavor 1st Growers and Packers, US Foods, Military Produce Group, LLC, C&S Wholesalers, John Vena Inc. and Harris Teeter.
Consumers who suspect they may have purchased Fresh Serrano Chile Peppers from these companies between the dates of Oct. 2-21, 2014, should check with the store to verify if the product was subject to recall.
A random sample was taken by the Michigan Department of Agriculture on Oct. 13, 2014, from a warehouse in Lansing, MI. Bailey Farms received notice that the sample tested positive for Salmonella on Oct. 20, 2014. This recall is the result of the possibility that the remainder of these lots could be contaminated with this bacteria.
The company is working with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to investigate the root cause of the potential contamination.
Salmonella can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, infection with Salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections (e.g., infected aneurysms), endocarditic and arthritis.
An estimated 80 percent of all antibiotics in the U.S. are given to livestock, which raises concerns among some scientists about the fostering of antibiotic-resistant pathogens. But a study on antibiotics just published by researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine might introduce a whole new concern to the equation.
Mice given antibiotics to treat Salmonella infections have been found to grow even sicker and start shedding more pathogens afterward. In fact, they begin to shed the same levels of bacteria as so-called “superspreaders,” the small minority of infected mice in the population who exhibit no signs of illness but spread large amounts of bacteria.
“We’ve shown that the immune state of an infected mouse given antibiotics can dictate how sick that mouse gets and also carries implications for disease transmission,” said Denise Monack, Ph.D., associate professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford and the study’s senior author. “If this holds true for livestock as well — and I think it will — it would have obvious public health implications. We need to think about the possibility that we’re not only selecting for antibiotic-resistant microbes, but also impairing the health of our livestock and increasing the spread of contagious pathogens among them and us.”
It’s not entirely clear why some animals — and humans — are superspreaders while others are not. Approximately 10-30 percent of mice are superspreaders who will shed large amounts of Salmonella while exhibiting no signs of illness, while the remaining 70-90 percent shed only small amounts and sometimes develop symptoms.
In the Stanford study, mice given antibiotics went from shedding small amounts to much higher levels of Salmonella. Within days, they also became very ill and several died. But, when given the same antibiotics, the superspreaders continued shedding large amounts of bacteria without any ill effects.
The researchers found that, compared to the normal mice, the superspreaders had dampened immune responses, which explained why they didn’t get sick. Instead of fighting off the infection, their immune systems tolerated it.
“Their immune cells have been rewired and aren’t responding to the inflammatory signals in the intestines the same way,” said Smita Gopinath, Ph.D., the study’s lead author.
And with the mice who do experience symptoms of illness, the antibiotics do exactly the opposite of what they’re intended to do.
These same conditions have not been observed in humans, but it’s an area worth studying, the researchers said.
In the 75 weeks between the indictment and the start of the trial, and during the eight-week jury trial, the criminal cases against former Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) executives have largely played out in public.
But since the jury handed down guilty verdicts a month ago, many of the orders, motions, and documents filed in the case have been sealed from public view and for reasons that are often unclear.
The 30-day deadline for post-trial motions imposed by U.S. District Judge W. Louis Sands passed Sept. 19. The three defendants convicted by the jury all want Sands to either overturn the verdicts or order new trials. More than a dozen other court documents filed since the end of the trial are sealed, including orders from the judge.
No sentencing date is known to have been set. Pre-sentencing reports for the federal courts are conducted largely in secret, and it’s possible that references to those investigations are among the sealed files that are piling up.
Among the motions that are public, here’s what we’ve learned since 60-year-old Stewart Parnell, chief executive and owner of the now-defunct PCA; his 55-year-old brother Michael Parnell, a peanut broker, and Mary Wilkerson, PCA’s quality assurance officer, were found guilty on various felony charges:
- As reported by Food Safety News on Oct. 8, the Parnell brothers jointly filed a motion for a new trial based on reports that some jurors may have done their own research on the 2008-09 Salmonella outbreak that led to the investigation that resulted in the 76-count indictment against the defendants.
- Stewart Parnell, found guilty on 67 counts charged, has moved for a judgment of acquittal or a new trial. His attorneys argue that there is insufficient evidence to support the jury’s verdict. Parnell says he did not intentionally ship tainted food, believed retesting was a legitimate process, and that his Blakely, GA, operations manager was “following protocol.”
- Michael Parnell, found guilty on 30 counts charged, has moved for a judgment of acquittal. His attorneys argue that since the jury found their client not guilty on multiple charges involving shipping misbranded food or participating in a conspiracy or fraudulent scheme, it’s inconsistent with the convictions.
- Mary Wilkerson, found guilty on one of two counts of obstruction of justice charged, also wants a judgment of acquittal. Her court-appointed attorney, Thomas G. Ledford, argues that the evidence at trial shows confusion about whether Wilkerson was even involved in the incident upon which the charge was made.
That incident concerns Stewart Parnell telling an inspector that, if any samples came up positive, Wilkerson would know about it, but the question involved a time period before she was the QA officer for PCA at Blakely, GA. A Feb. 3, 2009, memo from FDA’s Janet Gray quotes Parnell as saying that “someone” at Blakely would remember if there were any positives, but that relates to a Jan. 20, 2009, phone conversation with Parnell in which he did not mention Wilkerson.
“There was no mention of Mary Wilkerson by the name or reference to her position in this quote from Stewart Parnell although this was the basis of Count 73 in the indictment against Wilkerson,” Ledford writes. The Albany, GA, attorney says that Parnell was misquoted in Count 73 of the indictment, and he says that is the basis for the “very serious felony charge of Obstruction of Justice.”
Ledford states that Wilkerson’s name is not even mentioned in the memo of the conversation by Gray and that, “at some point in time,” the word “someone” was replaced with “Mary” because the indictment needed a “genuine warm body.”
Ledford further argues that the remaining obstruction count is vague and ambiguous in that Wilkerson’s response was to a question that did not clarify the time period involved, and the government has never been able to provide a recording, time log, video, affidavit, statement or any other type of record of their interview with the defendant who supposedly obstructed them.
“No such credible evidence was presented by the Government at any time during the Trial, which would have been sufficient for a conviction and therefore, the Defendant argues that no reasonable jury could possibly find guilty beyond a reasonable doubt on Count 73,” Ledford writes.
Stewart Parnell’s defense team from Gentry Locke Rakes & Moore in Roanoke, VA, is making multiple arguments on behalf of their client. They argue that the testimony of Daniel Kilgore, the PCA operations manager at Blakely, “was impeached through cross-examination and should be ignored.”
Kilgore has a plea agreement with the government and also awaits sentencing. He was indicted separately in February 2013, and his extensive testimony at trial should result in getting favorable consideration at sentencing.
The Virginia attorneys also charge that rebuttal and closing arguments by Department of Justice (DOJ) Attorney Patrick Hearn, one of the case’s three prosecutors, was improper for bringing up “food safety.”
“The stark implication of Mr. Hearn’s statements was that if the jury did not convict Mr. Parnell that innocent people would fall ill from tainted food,” the defense attorneys wrote. They compared it to a prosecutor bringing up the “War on Drugs,” which courts have found to be improper.
They also argue that much of the evidence introduced through the testimony of Samuel Lightsey, the former Blakely plant manager who was also a government witness, was improper because it pre-dated his arrival at the facility.
Finally, Stewart Parnell’s attorneys argue that there were enough trial mistakes to either overturn the verdicts or order a new trial based on “cumulative error.”
Approximately half of all FDA class-I drug recalls since 2004 have involved dietary supplements adulterated with banned pharmaceutical ingredients.
Previous studies have found that dietary supplements remain on store shelves even after FDA recalls, but a new study just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that 68 percent of the dietary supplements analyzed still contained the banned drugs at least six months after their recall.
“Action by the FDA has not been completely effective in eliminating all potentially dangerous adulterated supplements from the US marketplace,” wrote Dr. Pieter A. Cohen of Harvard Medical School and his colleagues. “More aggressive enforcement of the law, changes to the law to increase the FDA’s enforcement powers, or both will be required if sales of these products are to be prevented in the future.”
The products studied were recalled due to adulteration with pharmaceutical ingredients between Jan. 1, 2009, and Dec. 31, 2012, and available for purchase in July or August 2013. The supplement name, manufacturer, and distributor listed on the purchase also had to be identical to the information provided in the FDA recall.
Researchers analyzed 27 of the 274 dietary supplements recalled by FDA in 2009-12 that met their criteria. They used the same methods FDA field laboratories do to screen for adulterants.
Eighteen of the supplements contained a pharmaceutical adulterant. All but one of these had the same drug identified by FDA, and six of them had additional banned ingredients not identified by FDA.
The banned substances included sibutramine, sibutramine analogs, sildenafil, fluoxetine, phenolphthalein, aromatase inhibitor, and various anabolic steroids.
The researchers acknowledged certain limitations on their study — the main one being that although they made every effort to purchase recently manufactured supplements, “it is not known if all supplements were manufactured after the FDA recall.”
Daniel Fabricant, director of FDA’s Division of Dietary Supplement Programs from 2011-14 and current CEO of the Natural Products Association (NPA), said that the implications of the study are “largely overblown.”
He was particularly critical of the fact that only 27 substances were tested for the study.
“I think this study aims to say there aren’t adequate laws on the books,” Fabricant said. But, in his three years with FDA, he said the agency showed this wasn’t the case. “I think we showed that the laws certainly work and have a lot of value to them.”
He added that dealing with companies that continue to break the law calls for strong enforcement tools. Legitimate dietary supplements are regulated as a category of food, but products “masquerading as supplements” are treated as drugs within FDA. Fabricant believes it might be worthwhile to direct some of the food tools, such as administrative detention and mandatory recall authority available under the Food Safety Modernization Act, toward this issue.
Fabricant’s message to consumers is that, “If product claims sound too good to be true, they likely are and that should be a red flag.”
The JAMA-published study was supported, in part, by a grant from Consumers Union.
The rule replaces the traditional petitioning process for a manufacturer seeking GRAS status for an additive with a “procedure whereby any person may notify FDA of a determination that a particular use of a substance is GRAS.” FDA’s website acknowledges that the agency began accepting GRAS notices in 1998 even though the procedure was not yet final.
In May, FDA filed a motion to dismiss the suit, arguing that CFS has not identified any member of the organization “who has actually suffered this clearly speculative injury” and that “the proposed rule does not cause the alleged injuries from consumption of food substances.”
The settlement agreement, pending approval by the court, will require FDA to finalize the GRAS rule by August 2016. If FDA does not meet this deadline, CFS can ask the court to order the agency to fulfill its commitment and issue the rule.
“This is a major victory for consumers and the public,” said Donna Solen, CFS senior attorney. “For more than 17 years, FDA has imposed a lax regulatory system on consumers without affording them their right to participate in the rulemaking process. This is a violation of federal law that will come to an end as a result of this settlement agreement.”
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has previously estimated that about 1,000 of the 10,000 additives used in food today are being used based on undisclosed GRAS safety determinations. A recent report from the organization explored more details about chemicals reported as GRAS based solely on a company determination.
In August, the Grocery Manufacturers Association announced its plan to make the process for companies’ GRAS determinations more transparent.
Although the matter of this particular FDA rule may be settled, conversations surrounding GRAS are unlikely to die down.
Speaking to reporters at the United Fresh Washington Conference in September, Michael Taylor, FDA deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, said that the agency would like to do more to ensure that it can vouch for the safety of GRAS substances, but that there are “some big resource constraints.”
“Post-market surveillance is something we think is necessary and needs to be enhanced for both food safety and consumer confidence perspectives,” Taylor said, adding that although FDA’s food additive program has been funded to do the market-entry work, it “hasn’t really been funded to do the post-market surveillance.”
As the new Modernization of Poultry Inspection rule went into effect Monday, the Pew Charitable Trusts and Center for Science in the Public Interest released their review of global meat and poultry inspection systems. They recommended that U.S. policymakers begin a broader, data-driven effort to update the Department of Agriculture’s inspection system.
Traditional slaughter inspection methods for beef, pork and poultry are based on the Federal Meat Inspection Act of 1906 and the Poultry Products Inspection Act of 1957.
“These techniques focus largely on ensuring that food comes only from healthy animals,” states the report entitled, “Meat and Poultry Inspection 2.0.” “They are much less effective in protecting consumers from the modern-day hazards that commonly contaminate meat and poultry products.”
Sandra Eskin, director of food safety at Pew, compares the U.S. inspection system to a house built in 1906 and frequently redecorated since then. Maybe what we should do instead is knock the house down and build a new one, she suggested.
The report surveyed ante- and post-mortem inspection requirements in Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Sweden, plus efforts by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to modernize meat inspection. The review was intended to identify innovations in information management and integrated surveillance that could offer improved protections for U.S. consumers.
One of the key findings in the report is that robust data collection, analysis and sharing are fundamental components of international efforts to transform existing inspection practices into a modern, risk- and science-based inspection system.
The EFSA expert panel convened in 2010 to study approaches to inspections concluded that microbial hazards should be addressed from farm to fork with good manufacturing practices, good hygiene practices, and HACCP systems.
With food chain information, for example, inspectors can identify high-risk animals, herds and flocks before they enter facilities so that slaughter practices, control measures and monitoring can be targeted appropriately.
“Meat and poultry inspection at slaughter is essential for ensuring human health and the health and welfare of food animals, but it needs to be modernized to take into account changes in the most relevant public health hazards,” reads the report by Pew and CSPI.
Their review also revealed that none of the countries sends meat inspectors to every meat and poultry slaughter and processing plant every day, as is done in the U.S. Some countries use private or quasi-governmental inspectors in their meat and poultry inspection systems, while others have completely turned over certain aspects to industry.
Based on their findings, Pew and CSPI recommend that the U.S. commission comprehensive scientific assessments to evaluate its existing meat inspection approaches and alternatives for modernization, that a more significant effort to improve data collection related to meat and poultry production and testing be undertaken, and that the U.S. think about incorporating food chain information into its meat and poultry inspection system.
“While CSPI supports modernizing meat and poultry inspection, USDA has adopted an incomplete solution without the scientific backing necessary to assure consumers that poultry will carry fewer hazards, like Salmonella and Campylobacter,” said CSPI Food Safety Director Caroline Smith DeWaal.
One criticism of the new Modernization of Poultry Inspection rule, which establishes the New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS), is that while it does require enhanced sampling for all poultry plants, it doesn’t specify which pathogens the plants should be testing for.
Eskin told Food Safety News that USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is dedicated to improving public health, but that the agency’s proposals, including the poultry inspection rule and Salmonella Action Plan, are “baby steps and they need bigger leaps.”
“We welcome and appreciate the report from Pew and CSPI, which supports many of our efforts to modernize and strengthen America’s food safety system,” a FSIS spokesperson told Food Safety News. “As the Government Accountability Office acknowledged today, FSIS ‘has moved to an increasingly science-based, data-driven, risk-based approach’ to protecting public health. This will help us prevent thousands of illnesses every year.”
GAO published a 67-page report entitled, “USDA Needs to Strengthen Its Approach to Protecting Human Health from Pathogens in Poultry Products,” on Monday. It recommends that FSIS take action to reduce pathogen contamination on chicken and turkey products, make sure that agency food-safety standards are being met, and better assess whether on-farm practices are effective in reducing pathogens in live poultry.